Colorado law widely regulates the use of medicinal drugs and outright bans the use of most harmful non-medicinal drugs. A conviction for a drug crime can carry a unique stigma in the eyes of potential employers since, historically, abusers of legal drugs and users of illegal drugs have been branded “druggies” or “junkies.” While these labels may be unfair, it is undoubtedly in your best interests to avoid such a characterization. At Hebets & McCallin, we understand that sometimes people make isolated mistakes or take ill-advised risks. We also understand that sometimes people become the victims of addiction. No matter what your situation, we can help you overcome it.
Drug related crimes usually fall into one of three categories: possession, manufacture, distribution, or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). We discuss each of these in some detail. Other crimes include: prescription fraud, violations of the medical marijuana cultivation and use rules, etc. Whether you are charged with a seemingly minor offense or a felony, you are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Hebets & McCallin provides free consultations regardless of the severity of the crime charged. Please call us.
Historically, drug crimes did not have a special classification and penalty system; they were simply petty offenses, misdemeanors, or felonies—with the same or similar penalties as other non-drug petty offenses, misdemeanors, or felonies. As of late 2013, Colorado overhauled its classifications of drug crimes. Now, all drug crimes are classified as either “drug petty offenses,” “drug misdemeanors” or “drug felonies.” Within the new classification system, there are various “levels” and sentencing rules. The following table summarizes the new classifications and penalties. Note that a court may impose fines, imprisonment, or both. However, as we will discuss later, the new law also encourages courts to pursue alternatives to imprisonment.
Drug Crime Classifications
Level 1 drug felony $5,000 – $1 million 8 – 32 years 3 years Level 2 drug felony $3,000 – $750,000 4 – 8 years 2 years Aggravated level 2 drug felony $3,000 – $750,000 8 – 16 years 2 years Level 3 drug felony $2,000 – $500,000 2 – 4 years 1 year Aggravated level 3 drug felony $2,000 – $500,000 4 – 6 years 1 year Level 4 drug felony $1,000 – $100,000 6 months – 1 year 1 year Aggravated level 4 drug felony $1,000 – $100,000 1 – 2 years 1 year Level 1 drug misdemeanor $500 – $5,000 6 – 18 months N/A Level 2 drug misdemeanor $50 – $750 0 – 12 months N/A Drug petty offenses Varies for each offense Varies for each offense N/A
As common sense would tell us, Colorado drug laws depend upon context. For example, you are not going to be charged with illegal possession of Vicodin if you have a valid prescription. Similarly, there are exceptions to drug possession, use, and distribution laws for certain people, including medical professionals who may prescribe a given drug. Colorado’s new relaxed laws around marijuana also permit certain people who obtain licenses to grow, possess, and sell marijuana. Hebets & McCallin has successfully defended clients to whom such exceptions apply, as well as those to whom they do not.
Colorado’s constitutional Amendment 64, contrary to what you might think, did not fully legalize the use of marijuana. Amendment 64 permitted the private use of marijuana. Unlike alcohol, which may be consumed in public establishments like bars and restaurants (and sometimes openly in public), public marijuana consumption remains illegal. In fact, the “open and public display, consumption, or use” of two (2) ounces or less is a drug petty offense. Open, public use of more than two (2) ounces is deemed to be simple possession of the amount (see our table above). It is also illegal to give away your weed—a drug petty offense if less than two (2) ounces.
Manufacture, Distribution, or Sale of Controlled Substances
If the government has accused you of being a drug dealer in any form, it is critical that you seek legal counsel because the penalties for sale, distribution, or manufacture of controlled substances can be severe. The following table summarizes these laws.
Type of Drug
Schedule I or II substance > 225 g. Level 1 drug felony > 14 g., but not > 225 g. Level 2 drug felony Not > 14 g. Level 3 drug felony Methamphetamine, heroin, ketamine > 112 g. Level 1 drug felony > 7 g., but not > 112 g. Level 2 drug felony Not > 7 g. Level 3 drug felony Flunitrazepam > 50 g. Level 1 drug felony >10g., but not > 50 g. Level 2 drug felony Not > 10 g. Level 3 drug felony Schedule III or IV substance > 4 g. Level 3 drug felony Not > 4 g. Level 4 drug felony Schedule V substance Any Level 1 drug misdemeanor
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
While not as common a charge as driving under the influence of alcohol (see our DUI Defense Lawyer section), the number of DUID charges in Colorado is on the rise, and the penalties are just as severe, if not more severe. Often these charges stem from innocent mistakes of drivers who have taken medications according to valid prescriptions. Many people are unaware of the extent to which their medication may influence their ability to drive. Others are not actually being impaired by their medication, but fall under suspicion of DUID. For example, if an officer stops you for weaving, it is entirely possible that you weaved due to ordinary carelessness; however, if you volunteer to the officer that you have recently taken prescription medication, the officer will likely attribute the weaving to drug impairment—a much more serious charge.
One of the main signs of drug impairment that police look for is pupils—the black circles in the center of your eyes—that do not react to changes in light conditions (such as when a flashlight is passed in front of them). Although there are innocent explanations for tightly constricted pupils, police will likely err on the side of suspicion. Importantly, if an officer suspects you of DUID (or of a combination of drugs and alcohol), the officer can direct you to submit to a blood test to determine the level of substances in your system. This differs from an alcohol-only situation in which you have a legal right to choose between a blood test or a breath test. The reason police may require a blood test is because the current breath test technology cannot report the presence or level of drugs in a person’s system, whereas a blood test will show both alcohol and drugs. As with ordinary DUI, refusal to comply with an officer’s request will result in serious consequences to your driver’s license—at least a one-year suspension, even if you are ultimately cleared of criminal charges.
A Second Chance Under the New Law
Earlier, we mentioned that the 2013 revisions to Colorado’s drug laws generally discouraged courts from imposing prison sentences in many drug cases. This is “to ensure that the state’s costly prison resources are used for those offenders for whom another sentence is not appropriate.” In fact, when a person is convicted of (or pleads guilty to) a level 4 drug felony, the court is actually required to “exhaust all reasonable and appropriate alternative sentences” before imposing incarceration. If such a person is willing to participate in a drug treatment program, it is highly unlikely that he will be sent to prison.
Another piece of the 2013 law that is very favorable to those ultimately convicted of drug felonies (either by jury verdict or guilty plea) is the opportunity to have the felony conviction vacated (canceled) by the court if the person successfully completes a community-based (non-prison) sentence. This opportunity applies to many, but not all, drug felonies. Criminal history is a factor. For example, if you have a prior conviction for a “crime of violence” (see our Violent Crimes section) or if you have two prior drug felony convictions, you would not be eligible in your new case for this type of relief. The amount of drugs alleged in your case is also a factor. For example, possession of two (2) grams or less of methamphetamine or heroin would qualify, whereas possession of more than two (2) grams would not.
Denver Defense Attorneys on Your Side
The rules of eligibility are complicated, and it can be difficult to know whether your case would qualify. Trust the experts at Hebets & McCallin to decipher your situation and explain why you would or would not qualify.